Problematic Adverbs – The town is far or farly?

by Jacqueline Schaalje


Eric Chan

In my earlier article about adjectives and adverbs we said that adjectives say something about a noun, while adverbs say something about a verb or other adjective. So far so good. I also said that adverbs often have “-ly” at the end of the word. But if you did the exercise, you would have discovered some peculiar things. Or not, and you’re still puzzled. In any case, I would like to draw your attention to some interesting phenomena with adverbs.

First, let’s look at some examples from the exercise:

5 I woke up too ____________ (late/lately) to give you a call before I left the house.

The correct answer is late. But why?

Late is an adverb here, and it modifies (describes) waking up.

You can’t use lately, because lately means recently. As in: She hasn’t called her mother lately.

So late doesn’t follow the rule of adverbs with –ly.

6 This fish has been baked too _________ (short/shortly).

Another case that will probably surprise you.

The correct answer is short.

Short is an adverb here. What does it modify? Answer: baked.

The answer is not shortly, because shortly means soon. As in: I will see you shortly.


Here are some other interesting cases:

I asked the following question on some English grammar forums:

Why do we say: My money is safely in the bank.?

Why is it different from: My money is safe in the bank.?

Here is the best answer I got (From Englishclub.com):

Actually, both are possible and very similar in meaning, although contexts likely to elicit them would naturally differ.

In one, adjective ‘safe’ serves as a subject complement, while in the other adverb ‘safely’ modifies the predication ‘is (in the bank)’.

Okay, and now in normal English?

What this teacher is saying is that safely is an adverb that modifies “is.” I don’t know whether that seems clear to you. In any case, there is a difference in meaning. And I think the difference in meaning is in the words themselves and not in the fact that they are an adjective or adverb.

My money is safely in the bank means that I can now have peace of mind, because my money is in the bank and nothing is going to happen to it.

My money is safe in the bank means that my money can feel safe.

So actually, I think it’s better to say the first sentence: My money is safely in the bank.

I wanted to put this answer back on the forum and see what the teacher has to say about it. But it’s locked. I can’t make further replies. I don’t know why.

Let’s look at another example:

We saw that there is something odd happening with the adjective short. The adverb of that is also short, and not shortly.

A similar thing happens with long.

You wouldn’t say longly. This word doesn’t exist.

Adjective: I haven’t seen you in a long time.

Adverb: I haven’t heard from you for long.

Last case:

Far. Always use far. Farly doesn’t exist.

He’s been driving far.

And not: He’s been driving farly.

Very last case:

Nearly. Near and nearly can both be adverbs, but their meaning is different.

Nearly means almost: We’re nearly there.

Near means not far: Come and sit near to me.

Question: What’s the adjective of the adverb “early?”

Enough is enough.



Choose the correct form of the adjective or adverb in each sentence (between brackets). Do this quiz online here. 

1 The doctor will see you ____________ (short/shortly).

2 Your hair is growing __________ (long/longly).

3 You make me feel ____________ (safe/safely).

4 Now that we’ve come this _____________ (far/farly), we might as well finish the job.

5 I haven’t seen her ____________ (late/lately).

6 The barber cut his hair too _________ (short/shortly).

7 Their house is very __________ (far/farly) from the nearest town.

8 I would like to sit ___________ (near/nearly) to the speaker.

9 The runner was playing it ____________ (safe/safely). He saved his breath for the last lap.

10 Don’t wait up for me tonight. I’ll be working ____________ (late/lately).

You can do more exercises on the website and/or become an exclusive member and receive extra exercises if you follow this link.

One thought on “Problematic Adverbs – The town is far or farly?

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